How 3D printing and sportswear design and development are now linked?

3D printing helps Blue Associates reduce the cost of developing sportswear trims and components.

3D printing and sportswear design – a new way of working.

In the past five year, 3D printing has quickly gone from a topic of advanced research development to an affordable piece of home equipment.

3D printing is a method of additive manufacture, which eliminates the need for moulds. A high-powered laser fuses a fine powder of material into thin solid layers, forming a 3D structure. The process produces almost zero waste material and can produce highly complex structures not attainable through traditional processes.

With 3D printing machines becoming more affordable and the processes involved to produce a printable becoming easier, trim suppliers have now invested in this technology to provide quick solution to first stage prototypes.

Currently, developers send design artwork to trim suppliers, who in turn produce the 3D CAD files required to produce a mould. The developer therefore doesn’t see a to-scale sample until the mould is created, a process which is very expensive and time consuming.

Now, our suppliers are changing this process, allowing to-scale 3D printed working sample to be presented to our clients prior to mould being produced. It allows our clients to physically see the detail and function of any of the trims we have designed and also allows us to dummy fit these in situ on the prototype garments to make sure there will be no issues.

So, why isn’t trim being mass produced using 3D print?

The simple answer at this stage is materials and cost. Materials that are more cost effective to produce trim simply aren’t durable enough to withstand the repetitive pull of for instance, a zipper. Materials that are strong enough are available and have been used in many current sports products (for other uses, see video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIRyxzMWvkA), however the raw materials and equipment set-ups are far more costly. Certainly in the near future this is a possibility, were just not there yet.

Once 3D printing on a mass scale becomes a reality the design rules for production efficiency are thrown out of the window and the results will be extremely impressive. And by the time your zipper head breaks, you may well have a 3D printer in your own home to print off a replacement.